Melbourne gets timely reminder of piracy dangers

Published on LEUT Andrew Ragless (author)

Topic(s): Operation SLIPPER, HMAS Melbourne (F05), Counter-piracy

HMAS Melbourne near MV Albedo, a sunken merchant vessel, off the coast of Somalia. (photo: ABIS Jayson Tufrey)
HMAS Melbourne near MV Albedo, a sunken merchant vessel, off the coast of Somalia.

Fresh from their successful interdiction of suspected Somali pirates in October, the crew of the Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Melbourne has experienced a sombre reminder of the consequences of piracy when the ship came across the wreckage of the merchant vessel MV Albedo, almost three years to the day since its violent capture and subsequent sinking.

Engaged in counter-piracy operations as part of the Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, HMAS Melbourne identified the Albedo in her final resting place, partially submerged in 20 metres of water, two nautical miles off the coast of Somalia. The fate of more than half of Albedo’s 23-man crew, along with the cause of her sinking, remains a mystery.

Commanding Officer of HMAS Melbourne, Commander Brian Schlegel, said the story of the Albedo was a tragic and timely reminder for the Ship’s Company of HMAS Melbourne.

“The haunting image of the wreck of Albedo has reinforced the message that piracy remains a constant threat in the region,” he said.

“It has reaffirmed the important role we are undertaking to detect and deter piracy as part of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF).”

Last month, HMAS Melbourne succeeded in intercepting nine suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia.  The pirate skiffs were located and boarded by HMAS Melbourne on October 15, after reports of two attempted acts of piracy against separate merchant vessels in the area.

The MV Albedo was captured by pirates on November 26, 2010, while underway from Mombasa to Jebel Ali, 293 miles west of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. Among the crew were sailors from Bangladesh, India, Iran, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Seven Pakistani crew members, including the captain, were released in July 2012 after a concerted fundraising effort in Pakistan raised a US $1.1 million ransom. However one Indian man was shot and killed in 2011 and 15 men remain as hostages for further ransom, their whereabouts unknown. During their captivity, the 23 sailors were beaten, maimed and deprived of food, water and rest for days at a time.

HMAS Melbourne commenced maritime security operations in the area on September 24, 2013, as part of Operation SLIPPER and the US-led CMF. The guided missile frigate is flexibly assigned to operations under three principle task forces; CTF 150 (counter-terrorism), CTF 151 (counter-piracy) and CTF 152 (Gulf security and cooperation).

CTF151 exists in order to deter and disrupt piracy spanning an area of 2.5 million square kilometres including the Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean, Red Sea and the Somali Basin.

HMAS Melbourne is the 56th rotation of a Royal Australian Navy warship to the Middle East since the first Gulf War in 1990 and is the 32nd ship to deploy to the Middle East Area of Operations as part of Operations SLIPPER and CATALYST since September 2001.